Thursday, March 17, 2011

CED0 565 - Leadership and Planning - Week Six

An Altered Definition of Leadership and Teacher Leaders
The final class of CED0 565 - Leadership and Planning concluded and the course altered my perception of leadership. In the past, I carried a romantic notion of a leader being the strong, rugged individual who could change a system overnight while leading a charge against the old and ushering in a new dawn.  A John Wayne or Steve McQueen making things happen while silently drawing-in others in their wake.  When John Wayne rides out of town, down the dusty trail, will the people keep working to sustain the good that came about?  Not likely as they were never true stakeholders in the change process.  I realize now that I held an idealized view of effective leadership and that it takes individuals working, not in a vacuum, but with others to create, attain and sustain a shared community vision.

I now see Teacher Leaders as blurring the lines between administration and teachers for the good of the students.  Blurring lines, in this case, is a good thing as it leads to better and more effective communication between administration and the teachers who have to generate results.  Teacher Leaders need and should be
 part of the recruiting and hiring process for new staff.  They should also be an integral part of any quality improvement initiatives at a school.  A better fit for the John Wayne analogy, was his role as Sergeant Stryker in The Sands of Iwo Jima. He trained the troops, oversaw their promotions within the ranks, and would never ask them to do anything he wouldn't do himself.  Stryker was tough, fair, and he earned the trust of his mean and they would follow him into battle. Stryker always communicated with the Colonels and Generals above him.  In turn, they respected him and his views and the overall outcomes were more effective.  Sergeant Stryker dies in battle, but he had trained other soldiers to take his place, and they soldiered on.

Leadership Potential

A big shift for me was that all of us have inherent leadership potential.  It takes all types and kinds of people to lead and affect change. Some leaders are wired for an in-your-face approach while others take time to sow seeds that raise awareness and create a groundswell for change.  While the more boisterous and brash individuals may  rub people the wrong way, they provide an opportunity to crack open topics and question why things are the way they are.  I see that I have been a leader and have even greater leadership potential in the future.  Unlocking that potential means utilizing the feedback from my leadership surveys to become a more effective leader.

In society, professionals such as doctors, lawyers and businessmen provide avenues for leadership in their practice and communities.  One would hope that good leadership is about raising the social good for as many in our society.  Teachers really are leaders in the shaping of young minds so that they may grow-up to be reflective and positive contributors to society.  Perhaps this seems like a Utopian view of leadership, but I have seen good things happen when good people apply themselves to seemingly hopeless tasks. 

Improving Education from Within

Since I am on a Hollywood theme, one of my favorite movies is To Sir, With Love.  The story stars Sidney Poitier as an engineer from the British West Indies who takes a teaching job at a tough, low-income school in London is quite powerful.  The older teachers are burnt-out, the younger ones are fearful of the students, and the students see no reason why they even need to be at the school at all.  Poitier's character has an epiphany and sets about changing the overall learning environment, or culture, at the school.  Poitier leads by example.  The change is rough, has its low points, but the school and students are better for it in the end.

I have always been moved by To Sir, With Love.  In the end, he finds his true calling as a teacher to students and as an exemplar to his peers and administration.  I can think of no finer depiction of a Teacher Leader who can and does change the system from within.  Yes, I believe that all of us can change the system or organization that employs us.  It takes effort, deliberate action, making time for others and raising awareness. And, while we walk the walk, show patience and understanding for those that are slow to come around.  In the end, they rise and join with the others.

Friday, March 11, 2011

CEDO 565 - Leadership and Planning - Week Five

Making Change Happen

The past week we completed the Change Game simulation and reflected as a group on what activities helped foster change in a system.  I also completed an assignment where I examined how change occurs in my organization.  When it comes to making change happen one has to do a lot of talking.  An e-mail, like a message in a bottle, may not reach the right audience.  Plus, it does not convey the same meaning as a good conversation where ideas are shared, connections are made and awareness of issues/challenges emerges.
Looking back at the Change Game simulation and my own personal experience with system wide change, understanding the overall system and interrelationships is critical to affect and sustain continuous change. It is not enough to create a coalition.  One needs to get system or organizational buy-in from all of the stakeholders.  Not everyone will embrace change or system improvement initiatives, but they do come around eventually.  Identify who the key influencers are in each part of the system and sound them out.  How do they feel?  What are their concerns about change?  Bottom line:  keep talking to everyone and asking questions.

Awareness of a need for change is always the first step and one that can not be skipped over. Be patient, have conversations, listen and reflect.  Things may not happen as fast as we like, but trust the system, and trust the people around you to see opportunities for improvement.

Friday, March 4, 2011

CEDO 565 - Leadership and Planning - Week Four

Orchestrating Change

The week has been filled with activities, readings and surveys where we think about how to affect continuous, effective change.  Chapter 5 of Gabriel's How to Thrive as a Teacher Leader explores improving environment, climate and morale to rally an organization around sustained quality improvement initiatives.  If either of these are poor then change will meet resistance.  In an earlier post I brought-up the 'Ready, Fire, Aim' approach which seldom works.  To solve problems one needs to conduct in-depth data-analysis, reflect on causation and gather input from all of the stakeholders.

It takes the entire system and its component parts motivated and pulling together towards the goal(s).  A leader should examine how change will impact all of the domains within a system and formulate an action plan which is realistic and allows for flexibility during implementation.  Many a battle plan is cast aside once the fighting begins. If the system is behind the cause and domains understand the end game, then forces can be realigned in the field to achieve objectives.

Many leaders enter an organization and attempt to make change without careful root cause analysis of underlying problems.  In our readings from McREL, data analysis and stakeholder reflection are necessary to understand where the system is today before establishing action plans.  Once a vision is established, and corresponding mission statements, the specifics for how to bring about enduring change can be implemented.

This past Monday our Study Group played the Change Game simulation for a fictitious school.  The goal was to bring about as many benefits to the school using what we knew about the various school personalities and specific activities.  Each activity cost a specific number of resources and they could never be recouped or won back.  Energy out was just that - energy out.  Well, our group did not do so well.  I think if we had taken the time to review the school personalities and had conducted our data analysis and system reflection first we might have garnered greater benefits for the school.

The simulation was a valuable lesson in that it parallels how institutional change is attempted by many leaders.  CEOs, Team Leads and Principals can fall into a trap where they feel that the mandate given by their superiors requires them to do it all.  Effective and continuous change, especially a change in the culture, is best served when all of the system components pull together in common purpose.   Team and team inter-relationships need to be healthy and professional. The leader, instead of trying to play every role, acts as the conductor leading an orchestra.  They understand the interplay between all components and helps them work together to create beautiful sounds that do not detract but complement the actions of one another.